Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today Thorne Moore interviews me: https://bit.ly/2WWQ1jW #weekendReads #Honno

Thorny matters

Thorne turns the tables on me today!

Fellow Honno author Judith Barrow has been running interviews on her blog (https://judithbarrowblog.com/) with other authors published by Honno Welsh Women’s Press. (Read her interview with me)  I thought it was about time that the table was turned on her, so here is my interview in similar vein, with Judith Barrow.

Judith Barrow

So, Judith, you are the tireless champion of other authors. Let’s hear about you, for a change.
How did Yorkshire lass come to be a Pembrokeshire author?

We found Pembrokeshire by accident. After we were married, and before children, we always holidayed for a week in July in Cornwall. But after seven years of marriage and with three children under three and our only mode of transport being an ancient van, we decided it was too far with a young family. So we thought we would go to Wales; not too difficult a journey from Yorkshire, we believed.
I borrowed books on Wales from the library and, balancing our 8-month-old twins, one on each knee, I read as much as I could about the county of Pembrokeshire. With wonderful beaches it sounded just the place to take children for a holiday
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We booked a caravan and, when the big day came, packed the van to the hilt with everything the children would need, remembering only at the last minute, to throw a few clothes in for ourselves.

It took us ten hours. In 1978 there was no easy route from the North of England to West Wales. We meandered through small lanes, stopping for emergencies like much needed drinks, picnics and lavatory stops. The closer we were to our destination the slower we went; in the heat of the day the engine in our old van struggled; we needed to top up the radiator every hour or so. For the last fifty miles we became stuck in traffic jams. We got lost numerous times.

All this and three ever-increasingly fractious children.

We arrived at the caravan site in the middle of the night so were relieved to find the key in the door. The owner, a farmer, had given up and gone home.

The following morning I woke early. Leaving David in charge of our exhausted and still sleeping family, I crept out. The air was warm; a breeze barely moved the leaves on the trees around the field. Although the caravan was one of four in the farmer’s field, we were the only people there.

I walked along a small path. Within minutes I was facing the sea, glittering in the sun; dark rocks jutted out of the water surrounded by foaming waves. The horizon was a silvery line far in the distance. Faint voices from two small fishing boats carried on the air. The cliffs curved round in a natural cove. It was so quiet, so peaceful.

I fell in love with Pembrokeshire.

Within months we’d thrown caution, and our past lives, to the wind and moved into a half-built house in what was a field. It took us years to finish it but it’s been a labour of love.

How could anyone not fall in love with Pembrokeshire? But your books are mostly set up north. How important is location in your books?

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For me it’s vitally important, because it sets the scene for where my characters live. |And I try to portray the locations as they would exist in a certain era. It takes a lot of research to make sure the details of both the place and the time are correct. Luckily I enjoy researching.

I always draw a map of the town or village so I can see the characters moving around, see what they see; experience what they experience. It’s the only way I can picture it.

Location was especially important for the trilogy. The first book, Pattern of Shadows, was inspired by my research into a disused cotton mill in Oldham, Lancashire and its history of being the first German POW camp in the country. Rather than the noise of the machinery, the  colours of the cotton and cloth, the smell of oil, grease and the new material, I envisaged only vehicles coming and going, the sounds would be of men with a different language and dialect, no riot of colour, no tang of oil, grease, cotton fibres; just the reek of ‘living’ smells.

And the camp retains its importance throughout the trilogy after the war and into the sixties. It falls into ruin at the same time as the cotton industry is declining and the mill town where it is situated also deteriorates.

But, in the sequel, Changing Patterns and the last of the trilogy, Living in the Shadows, the characters are also in a small Welsh village; a complete contrast to the industrial town. And this disparity between the two locations is where the many layers of the human condition can be explored in order for me to create rounded characters that, hopefully, come to life on the page.

I hope that makes sense?

Perfect sense. Your first books, the Howarth stories, are a family saga. What appeals to you about that genre?

I love writing about the intricacies of relationships within families; it fascinate me. We live in such diverse situations and, a lot of the time; tend to take it all for granted. Being a family member, with the casual acceptance of one another that the circumstance brings, can bring the best and the worst out in all of us. So there is a wealth of human emotions to work with. It’s fascinating to write about that potential.  And, of course, behind closed doors, anything can happen. So the family saga is a genre that can cross over into historical fiction and the crime, mystery and romantic genres.

Your latest, The Memory, is still family-based but quite different. What made you shift direction for that one? What inspired it?

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It is new territory for me but the book is still set around a family unit so, from that point of view, I don’t think I strayed too far with The Memory. In the Haworth trilogy and the prequel, A Hundred Tiny Threads, (set against the background of the first World War, the Suffragettes and the Irish War of Independence),  there is still an underlying theme of reactions to a situation. But the difference between those books and this one is that those characters, as well as reacting in a domestic setting, respond to a wider situation; their lives are affected by what is happening in the outside world.  In The Memory it is only Irene Hargreaves, the protagonist that the reader learns about; mainly from the claustrophobic atmosphere she is living in presently, but also through her memories.

It’s a more contemporary book than the others and also it’s written in a different style. The book runs on two timelines: Irene’s life from the age of eight, after her sister is born and her grandmother comes to live with the family because her mother refuses to accept her second daughter, Rose, a Downs Syndrome child. That’s written in past tense. The second timeline, over the last twenty-four hours is written in the present tense and shows Irene’s life as the carer of her mother, who has dementia.

I don’t know that it was inspired by any one thing. The Memory actually began as a short story I wrote a long time ago, which just grew and, which, in turn, started from a journal that I’d kept from when I was carer for one of my relatives who had dementia. I read many articles on coping with the disease at the time, but writing how I felt then helped tremendously. Writing like that always has; it’s something I did through many years from being a child.

Another memory was of was a childhood friend of mine; a Down’s syndrome child, though I didn’t realise then. We would sit on the front doorstep of their house and I would read or chat; well, I would talk and he would smile and laugh. I didn’t think that it was odd that he never spoke. Thinking about it, I never even wondered why he wasn’t in school either. Anyway, one Monday after school, I went along the lane to their house and the front door was closed. I didn’t understand; one day he was there and the next gone. No one explained that he’d died. I‘m not sure I even understood what that meant anyway. So, I did what I usually did; I wrote about it; how I felt losing a friend. So, from finding the short story in a drawer I was clearing out, my memories, and remembering the journals, came The Memory.

What matters to you, apart from your writing? 

Family and friends. At least the small family that David and I created. I suppose that sounds odd; perhaps even a little selfish to exclude any extended members of our families. But I’m being honest here. I wasn’t close to my parents for various reasons; reasons that partly underlined the decision to move so far away from Yorkshire. They weren’t bothered about their siblings, who we rarely saw, so I never really got to know any of them.  Don’t misunderstand me; when any of them needed us we willingly did what we could. But moving away from where most of them live meant we were unable to rely on instant support; there was no childminding, no unexpected welcome visits. It made us more self-sufficient. So by family I do mean David and the children. And their children; our grandchildren. Whatever happens; however much changes, whatever life chucks at us, they will always matter to me.

 And friends? Well, at my age (and I think this happens to most people as they get older), friends are fewer and become more important. And, at this stage, true friends tend to know you inside out; all the good bits and the not so good bits. And they still like you. I think that’s wonderful. And it works both ways!

How did you come to be a Honno author?

For many years, whilst writing books that stacked up in drawers, never to appear again, I was writing poetry, plays and short stories and entering creative writing competitions. I also used to look for notifications for submissions to anthologies. A friend told me about a call that had come from Honno. The remit was to write a story around the subjects of gardens and life. The title of the anthology, published in 2008, is Coming up Roses. My story is called Whose House is This? (I wrote a post about it here).

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Shortly after the anthology was published I attended a workshop run by Honno and, in conversation with the editor, Caroline Oakley, I said that I had recently completed a manuscript. I think I should mention here that this book was the first I’d ever been truly excited about; even reluctant to consign it to the drawer with the others. Caroline told me to send it to her, which I did.

But, previously I’d sent the book to an agent.  And this is where it all gets a bit messy, drawn out  and tedious; so all I will say is that the agent wanted me to work with a commercial editor to change the genre from family saga to chick lit ( not that there is anything wrong with chick lit, it’s just not what I write.) So, after much discussion, the agent and I parted company and it was a great relief when the book was accepted by Honno as a family saga. That book became the first of the Haworth trilogy, Pattern of Shadows.
The rest, as is often quoted, is history. I’ve been with Honno for over twelve years now and had five books published with them and another, The Heart Stone, to be released in 2021
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What do you value most about Honno?

Honno  is my kind of publisher; small, independent, and led by strong women who know what kind of  books they want to publish and don’t accept anything but the best that an author can produce. So the editing is hard, but fair, and leads to many discussions – and a few compromises on both sides.
Because it is known to be a Welsh press it is sometimes assumed that all its authors will be Welsh as well. So, often, when I’ve appeared at events, people are surprised to hear my broad Northern English accent. The supposition is false; Honno’s aim as an inspiring, feminist, Welsh press is to provide opportunities for women writers. The only proviso is that they are either Welsh, are living in Wales or have a connection to the country – which actually covers a great many writers. I love their strapline -. “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” So it always gives me a thrill when the manuscript I’ve been toiling over for months (or years!) is accepted by them.

Judith’s website

Judith at Honno

Judith on Twitter

Judith on Facebook

Judith on Pinterest

Judith on Amazon

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Hilary Shepherd #WeekendReads #Honno

Text Box:

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I live in the middle of Wales in a house that was derelict when we bought it 10 years ago. I’ve spent my life farming and then building – the last 20 years making oak windows and stairs and things.

When did you start writing?

When I was still farming and the children were half grown up, my husband was away working in India for a month and it was the busiest time of the farming year, pre-lambing. I was very run down and developed a boil on my leg which made tractor driving (and everything else) excruciating. Writing was what I started doing to take my mind off the pain and after years of hating whatever I wrote it suddenly started working for me. I’ve been spending far too much time on it ever since.

What genre do you write in and why?

I never know what to think about genre, especially as applied to my own work, but my most recent book, ‘Albi’, happened to be a historical novel. Mostly I write contemporary fiction about ordinary people leading quiet lives, wherever that may be and whatever genre that is.

How important is location in your novels?

Very. Having lived in the Sudan and in Ghana and spent several months in India –  and now owning a house in Spain – I’ve had a lot of pleasure writing about other places. When the protagonist is an outsider, as Anne is in ‘In A Foreign Country’, that was fairly straightforward because I could show Ghana through her eyes. With ‘Albi’ it was much more challenging: the main character has lived all his short life in a Spanish village and sees the landscape differently as a result.

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

Has to be George Eliot, and the ending of ‘Middlemarch’ about the world going not so ill for you or I because of those ordinary people lying in their forgotten tombs…

Where do you write?

At my cramped desk in the study I share with my husband Nick. I get the window to the front with the pied flycatchers in the ash tree, he gets the window to the back and the green woodpeckers on the grassy bank. Mostly we don’t annoy one another too much.

Who is your favourite character in your books?

Albi. He’s so real to me that when I’m in our village in Spain I can feel him everywhere. That’s been an unexpected delight and I hope he’s still there when we at last get back after covid.

 

What was your favourite bit of research?

The hours I’ve spent in our Spanish house, which is full of the implements and utensils they were using 80 years ago (we possess three wooden ploughs), and listening and feeling for all those things that would have been the same in the 1930s. It’s a world that has changed a lot in the 20 years we’ve known the village, as the older generation quietly fades away, but the sheep bells still sound all round the village and the shepherds can still be heard calling them the same as they always did.

What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses.

The community of writers and the friendship that has come out of being published by Honno. Having the confidence that I’ll be taken seriously with the next book (though as with big publishing houses there’s no guarantee a book will be taken on). And going to the seaside whenever I go to talk to my editor.

And thank you Judith, fellow author, for all the support!

Hilary’s links:

https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/s/hilary-shepherd/

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2Xm3ccX ( Albi)

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/3gdM5CY (In a Foreign Country )

FaceBook: https://www.facebook.com/hilary.shepherd.77

Honoured to be included in a Post Written by Thorne Moore (Alongside Jane Austen No Less!!)

Thorny matters

Home, Hearth and Murder – domestic drama

Back in 1816, Jane Austen (yes, I always try to bring her into anything if I can) commiserated with her nephew when he reported that he had lost 2 whole chapters of his own tentative novel. She hadn’t stolen them, she promised. “What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited Sketches, full of Variety & Glow? — How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two Inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a Brush, as produces little effect after much labour?”

Being Jane Austen, she was, of course, being ironic, suggesting that her own writing was on such a slight and insignificant scale. Sir Walter Scott recognised that her work was fair more powerful than a little bit of ivory would allow. “The big bow-wow strain I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch, which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me.”

And yet critics have dared to complain that Austen’s novels are too limited, confined to “three or four families in a country village,” when all around her, the social upheaval of the industrial revolution, the French Terror, the Napoleonic wars were playing out. She knew well enough what great dramas were happening out there. A cousin’s husband was guillotined, an aunt was hauled off to prison, two brothers were serving in the navy, and yet she chose to concentrate on a small group of people interacting on a tiny stage as if the outside world didn’t exist. But what Jane Austen appreciated was that there is just as much emotional and psychological drama to be found in closed families as on wide battlefields.

I write about crime. My genre has been defined as Domestic Noir and it always focuses on the dark dynamics at work within a family, a neighbourhood, a close circle of friends. Does that mean it lacks the drama of a crime novel set, say, among Columbian drug barons, or the Mafia, or human traffickers or crooked financiers in the city? It probably lacks the extreme gore of a hard-boiled thriller. I work on the assumption that lashing out wildly and causing a loved one’s death with a misplaced blow is just as tragic and dramatic as a gruesome plot involving a victim’s head being chewed off by a bear.

Domestic drama might lack the fast pace of mainstream crime fiction too. It tends to be a matter of a slow burn, rising gradually to a rolling boil, scalding oil and an all-consuming blaze. That’s what I like, because it is what goes on in families – and with isolating lock-down, even more so. You don’t have to look to the scheming world of international crime or the grimy nastiness of the underworld to discover every facet of human emotion – thundering passion, consuming rage, seething jealousy, love, hope, disappointment, despair, joy, triumph, resentment, remorse. They are all there, simmering behind lace curtains.

Judith Barrow’s latest book, The Memory, proves the point exactly. Following the story of Irene from young girl greeting the birth of her beloved Downs Syndrome sister to aging carer of a mother with dementia, it is an exquisite study of how family ties and stresses stir up every possible joy and anguish from deep protective love to long-nursed hatred, with sheer bloody exhaustion nudging inexorably towards a fatal brink.

Read it and tell me a domestic drama can’t shake the reader as much as a shoot-out in bank vaults or torture in a cellar.

The Memory by Judith Barrow

www.thornemoore.co.uk

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Juliet Greenwood #FridayReads #BookLaunch

My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We have a Facebook group where we can chat and ask for help, information and generally boost moral when it’s needed. And we’ve met up in real life on many occasions. About three years ago I shared interviews with some of them. Since then there have been other women writers who have become Honno authors. So this is the new set of interviews and today I am with friend, Juliet Greenwood.

Please tell us a little about yourself.

I live in a traditional cottage in Snowdonia, in North Wales. I’ve had three novels published by Honno (Eden’s Garden, We That are Left and The White Camellia). Last year I was taken on by Orion, in a two-book deal, with the first, The Ferryman’s Daughter, published yesterday; the fourteenth May 2020.

When did you start writing?

Almost as soon as I started to read! I loved books and stories from an early age, so I was writing my own as soon as I could.

What genre do you write in and why?

I write historical fiction, mainly based around the time of WW1. I find that period fascinating because it was a time of so much change, particularly for women. It was when many women were breaking the boundaries of social expectations to be the angel of the hearth, taking up education and the professions and starting to live independent lives. I also find it fascinating because you can see where negative and dismissive attitudes to women originate. At the same time, the women themselves faced battles we can still recognise today – things like equal pay for equal work, being taken seriously and being heard in the first place.

I think the main thing for me is that history, having been mainly written by men in the past, has tended to overlook both the reality of women’s lives, and also just how much so many women achieved despite all the constraints (and certain men taking credit for their work!). I feel it is important to know our own history, because that is a large part of what forms our view of ourselves. I so wish I’d known as a teenager that women climbed mountains, were daring rescuers behind enemy lines in WW1 and led the fight for so many of the rights we – both men and women – take for granted, including the vote.

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

I’m going to cheat. It’s a mix of Barbara Bradford Taylor’s A Woman of Substance and Rosamund Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers. I love both of them.

Where do you write?

I have an office in the ‘crog loft’, a tiny room in my cottage that’s under the eaves and would have been where the children slept in Victorian times. One of the previous inhabitants put in a window, so I have a view over my garden, and over towards Anglesey and the sea. The sunsets are magnificent from up there!

Who is your favourite character in your books?

It’s always the one I’m working on at the moment! I love Hester, the heroine of The Ferryman’s Daughter for her sheer determination to get through and never give up – and because she’s nobody’s fool and takes no flim-flammery (as her Welsh grandmother calls it) from any young man up to no good. I love her mixture of being forthright and resourceful, while also being fiercely determined to be fair and protect her younger brother and sister at all costs. She has plenty of self-doubt and soul searching, but she always picks herself up and gets on with it and wins through.

What was your favourite bit of research?

I loved visiting St Ives, where The Ferryman’s Daughter is set, especially as I was able to visit my favourite places along the Cornish coast. I also have a bit of research for my next book for Orion, which I haven’t been able to do so far because of the lockdown, which is a day’s course in being a blacksmith. My great-grandmother was a nail maker, so I’m very excited to follow in her footsteps, if only briefly. I was ashamed to realise it had never occurred to me that there have been plenty of female blacksmiths, and not only during the world wars! (But that’s another story…)

How have you found it different being published by Orion after an indie press like Honno?

I’m eternally grateful that I had the experience of being published by Honno before finding an agent and having a two-book deal with Orion – especially when my first book, The Ferryman’s Daughter, was moved forward a whole year, meaning it was a bit of a mad dash to get the various stages of editing done, while also hitting the deadline for book two. Having been through the process in the slightly less pressurised atmosphere of Honno, and learning the different stages of the editing process, gave me the confidence to feel I knew what I was doing – and even more importantly know that I had done it three times before so could do it again! That experience has been utterly invaluable.

Honno authors with from the left Editor Caroline Oakley, Juliet, Carol Lovekin, Judith Barrow, Alison Layland, Janet Thomas (former editor of Honno, now Honno committee member), Thorne Moore, Hilary Shepherd, Jan Newton.

Honno also gave me time to develop as a writer and become more certain of who I was as an author. When I began working with Orion, I found I was very aware of where I could compromise while still remaining the essential me, while being clear with myself (and so being clear with others) where I didn’t feel comfortable. Everyone at both Honno and Orion have been wonderful and supportive, and have always made me feel valued and that my opinions would be heard.

The last few years have been quite a rollercoaster, and this business is definitely not for the fainthearted. But whether your publisher is large or small, nothing beats that feeling when a book finally comes together, and then goes out into the world to take on a life of its own. I wouldn’t have missed either experience for the world!

A little more about Juliet

An image posted by the author.

Juliet has always been a bookworm and a storyteller, writing her first novel (a sweeping historical epic) at the age of ten. She is fascinated both by her Celtic heritage and the history of the women in her family, with her great-grandmother having supported her family by nail making in Lye, in the Black Country, near Birmingham in the UK, and her grandmother by working as a cook in a large country house. She lives in a traditional quarryman’s cottage between the mountains and the sea in beautiful Snowdonia, in Wales in the UK, and is to be found dog walking in all weathers, always with a camera to hand

Social media links:

Juliet’s Blog: https://julietgreenwoodauthor.wordpress.com/

Facebook:  AuthorJulietGreenwoodhttps://www.facebook.com/authorjulietgreenwood

Twitter            @julietgreenwood   https://twitter.com/julietgreenwood

Instagram:     JulietGreenwood   https://www.instagram.com/julietgreenwood/

Honno:           https://www.honno.co.uk/authors/g/juliet-greenwood/

The Ferryman’s Daughter:

UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B083N19BTF/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

US: https://www.amazon.com/Ferrymans-Daughter-gripping-saga-tragedy-ebook/dp/B083N19BTF/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=The+ferryman%27s+daughter&qid=1587988452&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

MY Review of Wasteland (Operation Galton Book 2) by Terry Tyler #TuesdayBookBlog

Book Description:

“Those who escape ‘the system’ are left to survive outside society.  The fortunate find places in off-grid communities; the others disappear into the wasteland.”

The year: 2061. In the new UK megacities, the government watches every move you make.  Speech is no longer free—an ‘offensive’ word reaching the wrong ear means a social demerit and a hefty fine.  One too many demerits?  Job loss and eviction, with free transport to your nearest community for the homeless: the Hope Villages. 

Rae Farrer is the ultimate megacity girl – tech-loving, hard-working, law-abiding and content – until a shocking discovery about her birth forces her to question every aspect of life in UK Megacity 12.

On the other side of the supposedly safe megacity walls, a few wastelanders suspect that their freedom cannot last forever...

Wasteland is the stand-alone sequel to ‘Hope’, the concluding book in the two-part Operation Galton series, and Terry Tyler’s twenty-first publication.

My Review:

Brilliant plot that twists and turns, rounded, multi-layered characters, great dialogue, settings with an evocative sense of place. What else would a reader expect from Terry Tyler?.Ah yes, an excellent writing style. And it’s all here in Wasteland.

 Once upon a time I wouldn’t have read any dystopian novel but, because I have long been an admirer of her work, when I heard Terry Tyler had published a book of this the genre I thought I would give it a go. This is my review from the first of Project Renova Book One; Tipping Point: http://bit.ly/2um9Fcq

 The setting of Wasteland, Terry’s latest book; which one could easily think it eerily suggestive of the future for how we are living at the moment ( well I thought so), is the year 2061 in the UK. The country is divided into megacities,ruled by the Nutricorp organisation and a government headed by a corrupt ( yet also manipulated) female Prime Minister. This is the second book of “Operation Galton”. When I reviewed Hope, the first book of this series, I wrote, “The people in power, whether in business or politics, influence and control the everyday life of the public; through lies and machinations… the depiction of authority and dominance in this future life is blatant in the control over the masses”. In Wasteland there is no subtlety, and the people know it; they are ruled by threats and fear. Yet they are compliant: some because, having been brought up in Hope villages; in government run programmes; in the absence of their biological parents, they know no different life. Others because it is easier to accept the limitations of freedom in return for the sophistication of modern technology, the availability of cosmetic surgery and access to social media.

The protagonist, Rae, is one of these young people. But when she discovers the history of her family, and that they may still be alive even though they, like others, chose to live in the wastelands; to be free, she knows she has to try and find them.

She escapes the confines of the megacity she lives in and faces the truth of the wastelanders’ lives: of ruined villages and towns, of hunger and danger. But she also finds kindness; through the organisation of food banks and the compassionate help of small communities living off the land.

But does she find her family? And is the Nutricorp organisation and Government content to leave the Wastelanders alone?

I’ll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, this latest book of Terry Tyler doesn’t disappoint and I can thoroughly recommend Wasteland to any reader who enjoys the genre… in fact, to any reader who wants to try this author’s work

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Alys Einon #MondayBlogs

My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We have a Facebook group where we can chat and ask for help, information and generally boost moral when it’s needed. And we’ve met up in real life on many occasions. About three years ago I shared interviews with some of them. Since then there have been other women writers who have become Honno authors. So this is the first of a new set of interviews and today I am with author, Alys Einon

Please tell us a little about yourself.

Well, I’m in my late 40s, and live in Swansea, which is a beautiful place to live and work. I am an academic, working in the fields of reproductive health, gender, sexuality and motherhood. I live with my wife and stepson, three dogs and one cat, in a tumbly-down old townhouse with a garden I attempt to grow things in. I have a grown-up son who lives nearby, and another married stepson who also lives nearby. I am a bit of a workaholic, but I love being out and about in nature, and there’s plenty of that near me, including beaches, woods and parks. I am an avid reader, and I am also a very spiritual person. I like to be active, and even now, during the pandemic, I am keeping active by doing Five Rhythms Dancing and practising my karate and kickboxing.

When did you start writing?

I was seven years old when I started writing, the youngest of a family of six living in a council house with very little money. I loved reading, and read and re-read everything we had in the house. One day I was reading the back of an Enid Blyton novel, and saw an author’s note, and I thought, I want to do that! So I started writing stories. I got laughed at by my siblings, but it didn’t stop me. Then when I was eleven I saw a film about Anne Frank, and I started keeping a diary in a little notebook (I still have that notebook). And I’ve kept a diary ever since.

I think I suffered a lot from the weight of other people’s scorn growing up. My parents dismissed writing as a career, telling me I would have to have a proper career. I was clever in school, so they fixated on me doing something important that would make them look good. I went along with that, but in my heart of hearts, being able to craft and tell a good story was all I longed for. I had one teacher at school who encouraged me, but she was a realist and knew how hard it was out in the world. Other than that, I just had to believe in myself.

As an adult, I experienced a sudden tragedy at the age of 20, which changed my life forever. I found my vocation as a midwife. But I still carried on writing, and began collecting rejection slips! It was worth it, in the end, as now I am published by Honno.

What genre do you write in and why?

Literary fiction is how I am loosely located. I have written in other genres, particularly speculative fiction, but never anything good enough to be published. What I am interested in is the tiny details of women’s lives. I write about women and their lives because that’s what I am interested in, and because there are so many stories still not told. I grew up seeing too much of history, too many narratives, that didn’t represent the world of women that I came to inhabit. So that’s what I write about. That and some of the challenges that beset us, because we are women in world that still doesn’t see us or value our central role in keeping the world turning.

How important is location in your novels?

Very important. I feel it is important to evoke a sense of place, and in particular, place, for me, reflects something integral to the plot. In Inshallah, Amanda’s connection to her home and to Wales, and the relocation to Saudi Arabia, are central to the plot and to understanding her as a character. Both places are powerfully symbolic, as countries connecting to her perception of her sense of self, and of belonging. She feels trapped in Wales, in a life with no meaning, but to which she ‘belongs’, and then moves to what is to her an alien culture, having to learn the language, but fuelled by the sense of meaning afforded by her conversion to Islam. This place, and its customs and rules, is a core element of her story, right up to her attempts to escape.

Inshallah

In Ash, the sense of place is linked to houses. Houses play a key role, homes, places of residence – how potent and how powerful a symbol these are in our lives and imaginations! The relationship with different houses, the description of these, their association with different periods of time and identity for both Amanda and Ash, are core to the narrative. I often dream about houses, and I know that in dream interpretation these are meant to represent the self, so I feel as if they grew in that symbolic representation of self in the novel.

Ash

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

That is impossible to answer, because I love so many authors dearly. I would say… Scarlett Thomas, closely followed by Anne McCaffery, closely followed by Starhawk, closely followed by Margaret Attwood, closely followed by Marion Zimmer Bradley, then Tolkien, Charlotte Bronte…. My favourite book has always been The Lord of the Rings, and it always will be, but I have too many favourites really to focus on only one author…

Where do you write?

Usually I like to be out and about writing, either in my local café, Crumbs, which does an excellent vegan breakfast for a treat on Saturday mornings, and where the staff are used to me scribbling away and demanding tea every half and hour, or out in my camper van at the beach or elsewhere. I have a big van that has comfy seats, a bed, and a cooker and cupboards, so I can go anywhere, really, and always have access to a cup of tea when I want one! I usually listen to music while I am writing, something that evokes the kind of mood I am working with. I find the urge to write in odd places – I can be inspired by someone walking past, or the way evening sunlight hits a calm sea, or a scent on the breeze. So writing in different places helps with that. I always carry my diary with me just in case I have to jot something down, wherever I am. But because I have a ‘day job’, I often have to make the decision to go and write somewhere, rather than simply following the urge. This is why I often go out – because it focuses my mind on writing for a period of time, and I am less likely to be distracted, and more likely to be productive.

 I type up and edit in my study at home, which is on the first floor and overlooks the garden. It’s a lovely space, full of books and beautiful things I have collected over the years. It is rich with colour and texture, and smells of home-made incense and essential oils. I have a big old schoolteacher’s desk which is in the bay window, and it is littered with books and papers and pens and notebooks.  Right now, because of the pandemic, this is pretty much where I do all my writing and my day job. I sit on a chair that has been in my family since before I was born, and I have a CD player to my right, and an Ipod dock to my left, so I can listen to whatever takes my fancy.

Who is your favourite character in your books?

Hmmm that’s a tricky one. I would say, Ash, the main character in Ash, mainly because she is so honest. Brutally so. Yes, she’s an annoying, self-obsessed teenager at times, but she sees the world in black and white, and although she has a lot of growing up to do, she is generally honest with herself. I also love Amanda’s twin sons, Ash’s brothers, who seem to be a foil for both Ash and Amanda’s limitations.

The thing with characters, I have found, is that once I have a general idea of who they are, they seem to take off and become something more. I don’t always feel like I am in control of that. It was hard, deciding to write Ash from a first person perspective, because I am not a mixed race young woman living in today’s society! I could only bring what I could into that character, read up about the experience of mixed-race children in the UK, and try to represent the racism she experiences as plainly as possible. I can’t claim to understand such a perspective, but I do know a lot about being a young woman, feeling alienated, and the experience of negative body image, which are all important parts of her story.

What was your favourite bit of research

Ah, now that’s a good question. I would have to say, my favourite bit of research was researching Islam and Saudi Arabian culture. I knew nothing about it, really, before I started writing Inshallah, but I knew I wanted to write about faith, and about that feeling that there is something bigger that may be guiding our steps through life. But I also wanted to become more educated on something that I had only ever seen through the very biased lens of media representation. So I read the Qu’ran, in translation, and read books about Islam, so that I could gain some basic understanding – as much as Amanda would have had, anyway. And I explored a lot of women’s sites relating to Saudi Arabian life, especially cooking! I experimented with many of the commonly made dishes, to find out what they were like, and I even dressed in hijab to experience the sensory feelings that Amanda would have experienced when she first put on the headscarf/veil.

As a writer, I knew I could only ever write about this subject as an outsider, – which is what Amanda was – but I found myself developing a great respect for a faith that puts so much emphasis on charity and community. And it really got me to think about the world differently.

People say, ‘write what you know’ but not everyone does that. Of course we write from our own perspective, but there are things to learn, always, and new ways to see the world. A good book should take the reader out of their comfort zone, but do so in such a way that they are carried along effortlessly. I hope I have achieved that.

What do you like most about being published by Honno, an indie press rather than one of the big publishing houses.

First, the fact that I am published by a women’s press is a major achievement. I grew into my own identity reading books by Honno and other women’s presses, and I felt that there must be something really special about authors who are published by smaller presses who can’t afford to take a gamble in the way in a bigger publishing house could. I am in awe of my fellow Honno authors, and I really do feel honoured to be in their company. It is so great to have a good relationship with my editor, and the community of Honno authors is so supportive and helpful. It is a huge plus to not have to have an agent to get your work read. I could paper my wall with rejection slips and after a while it just wears you down. Then there’s that personal experience of being nurtured by an editor who really knows her stuff and is invested in making sure your work is the best it can be.  

I think with Honno, the authors are all excellent, and that kind of sets a standard. It makes me strive to be better, to be worthy of the association. And it’s a feminist press, so what’s not to like?

Links too Alys

@AlysEinion (Twitter)

Facebook: Alys Einionhttps://www.facebook.com/AlysEinion/

Links to her books:

Honno: https://bit.ly/2W9TxH2

Amazon: https://amzn.to/35BO1Ae

Honno: “Great Women, Great Writing, Great Stories.” Today with Jan Newton #TuesdayBookBlog

My greatest support has come from the group of authors published by Honno. We have a Facebook group where we can chat and ask for help, information and generally boost moral when it’s needed. And we’ve met up in real life on many occasions. About three years ago I shared interviews with some of them. Since then there have been other women writers who have become Honno authors. So this is the first of a new set of interviews and today I am with the lovely Jan Newton

Please tell us a little about yourself

Where to start? Well, I spent my first eleven years in Manchester, where I developed a distinctive accent and sense of humour. Along with my sister, I also developed a huge love of horses, which came from our Dad. He grew up in Salford, and used to wait every morning to be able to go and talk to the milkman’s horse when the milkman was on his rounds. We were lucky enough to move to a smallholding in Mellor, a small village between Marple in Cheshire, and New Mills in Derbyshire and increase our horse and pony collection to four.

I spent every spare moment on the back of a pony, exploring the hills and moorlands and used to get into terrible trouble for climbing out of the bedroom window armed only with a piece of baler twine, to go and ride before school. The baler twine made a makeshift bridle. Not quite as good as the real thing for directional purposes, but much easier to hide.

I still have a horse – this one has been with me for 25 years, and we don’t go exploring these days, but there isn’t a better listener than a horse. These days I explore the breath-taking scenery of deepest mid Wales on foot, with a Labrador and a barmy collie.

When did you start writing?

I loved reading before I could walk (according to my mother). My grandma encouraged me to read her large print Agatha Christies and westerns, which she got from Marple Library. I loved Agatha, but never took to the westerns. I galloped through the readers at primary school by year three, and my teacher suggested I should write my own stories and let the others catch up.

One afternoon she suggested we should all write a little story about space. Her brother, of whom she was very proud, worked at Jodrell Bank on the huge telescope, and I think she really wanted tales of star systems and the space race. What she got from me was the story of Fred, a little green one-legged spaceman, with an aerial in his head, who landed (fortuitously) during the summer holidays, in my garden in Middleton. Our adventures coursed through six Lancashire Education Committee exercise books, before Mrs Richardson gently suggested we might need a conclusion. I still find it hard to finish a story.

I didn’t write for many years (too many to admit to), until, ten years ago, I was looking for two courses to finish my second Open University degree. A friend said she was doing Creative Writing, so I signed up too, and that was it. From the first page of the course book I was completely hooked. I went on to do the third level course, and then to Swansea University to be a (very) mature student on the Creative Writing MA. It was an amazing experience, with fantastic tutors and some gifted fellow students, and I’ve been writing ‘properly’ ever since.

What genre do you write in and why?

I began my writing career with short stories, and they are still my favourite thing to do. I won several short story prizes, which persuaded me to keep going, and made me think that perhaps I might be able to sustain the writing and produce a novel – something which I had dreamed of since I was that child, reading to Grandma. My two novels are crime – police procedurals – set in rural mid Wales, but the crime genre was almost accidental.

I’d had what I thought was a marvellous idea for a novel, which I took to a wonderful course at Tŷ Newydd in Llanystumdwy. There, I was very gently told that my plot would never have worked. I had two options. I could either go home and re-think the existing novel, or I could choose one character who I couldn’t bear to be parted from, and write the beginning of a completely different novel, which included that character. Fortunately, I chose the latter option. Strangely, the character I couldn’t leave was a fairly minor one in the original novel – a police sergeant from Manchester, by the name of Julie Kite.

That evening (and into the small hours) I wrote the first two chapters of Remember No More, my first crime novel, which was published by Honno in 2017. This was followed in 2019 with Rather to be Pitied, which follows Julie Kite’s story as she settles into her new life as a detective sergeant in mid Wales.

How important is location in your novels?

Location is always the first thing to be decided for me, whether I’m writing short stories, novels or indulging in nature writing, which I love. I’m particularly lucky to live where I do, with its amazing scenery, a huge sense of history and its wonderful people – all fantastic prompts for any sort of writing. Even as a child I would spend hours with Ordnance Survey maps, plotting rides and marvelling at how contours translated into actual hills and mountains and how those tiny pictorial trees – spiky or rounded – were actual woods and forests on the ground.

For me, location is almost a character in its own right. The psychogeography of both urban and rural environments is fascinating – and guides the actions of the people who live there. I find it hard to imagine characters fully if I haven’t imagined where they are in the world and where they feel at home.

Who is your favourite (non Honno) author?

I have so many favourite authors. If I had to narrow it down, then the honours have to be shared between Alan Bennett and Kathleen Jamie.

I love Bennett, because he manages to tread that shaky tightrope between humour (though subtle, not the more on-trend custard-pie type humour) and real pathos. His writing shows a true understanding of the human condition and the complicated ways in which we interact with each other. His use of language and his eye for detail are forensic. I could read his diaries over and over, and see gems each time which had passed me by before.  Talking Heads, the two series of monologues written in the 1980s and 1990s, are a masterclass in subtle understatement.

Kathleen Jamie is a Scottish poet and essayist. Her essays are just amazing. I can’t decide which of her three books – Sightlines, Findings or the latest one Surfacing – is my favourite, but one essay, Skylines, in particular sticks in my mind, where she describes Edinburgh, with its collection of weather vanes and clocks. She has such a unique way of looking at things, a different, sometimes surprising, angle which draws you in.

Where do you write?

I have a rather lovely shed in the garden. It takes me away from the barking dog (rescue Labrador who thinks it’s his job to alert me to a quad bike four miles away) and the ‘are you disturbable?’ requests from him indoors. It has a wonderful view over the Epynt and across to Abergwesyn, and unless I keep the door shut, it’s often invaded by a small and very nosy goat. But, and maybe this is a throwback from my Open University days, when I could revise while walking round Tesco, I can really write anywhere. I’m a PhD level eavesdropper and people-watcher, and I’m always jotting down snippets of mannerism and wonderful snatches of conversation. Writing’s brilliant. It gives you a licence to be absolutely nosy. One short story came from watching the woman at the next table in a restaurant in Aberystwyth. It makes you more tolerant of others’ foibles, if you can use them to your advantage.

Who is your favourite character in your books?

I do like Julie Kite, with her keenness and determination, but I have to say I’m probably a lot more like the pathologist, Kay Greenhalgh. My first degree was in chemistry and geology, and the non-nonsense, not-suffering-fools outlook of Dr Greenhalgh really appeals to me.

What was your favourite bit of research?

My favourite bit of research was undertaken long before I even thought of writing Remember No More. The Epynt, or Epynt Mountain as it’s called locally, lies between Garth and Brecon. It was home to a whole community of Welsh-speaking farmers and their families, until it was commandeered by the MOD in 1940 and the families were removed.

I was working as a teaching assistant in the Welsh Unit of Builth Wells Primary School, and we, along with two other schools, were invited to an open day, where the army and some of those who had lived there as children talked to the schools about how life used to be and what had happened to the people who had lived there.

It was a memorable day, and in the afternoon, all the children met for a farewell on the grass outside the tiny visitors’ centre. As they stood in the sunshine, someone suggested singing Mae Hen Wlad fy Nhadau. It was glorious, a huge gaggle of primary school children singing their hearts out, where Welsh speaking families had lived before. At that moment, the army, in its wisdom, decided to start shelling practice on the other side of the hill. The irony of the moment made it clear to me that the story of the Epynt, and the way its families were treated, deserved a wider audience.

What do you like about being published by Honno rather than a large publishing house?

I love the team spirit which goes with being a Honno author. The other authors are so supportive of each other, and you really feel part of the gang. You get to know everyone who makes Honno work, and feel part of the enterprise, in a way which would surely be very difficult in a larger organisation. I was, and continue to be, overwhelmed at the generosity of everyone involved. It feels like a real joint-venture, which is a pleasure to be a part of.

Links to Jan:

Facebook: https://bit.ly/2VXtpir

Twitter: https://bit.ly/3f9pU09

Website: https://jannewton.wordpress.com/

Amazon.co.uk: https://amzn.to/2Ytptrx

Honno Author Page: https://bit.ly/2KU6vST